These days, we get a lot of messages about living your best life. Bloggers and books abound that offer tips for being happy, managing stress, and staying sharp.
Sometimes, it can feel a bit overwhelming.
So instead of forcing yourself to read more or do that Sudoku puzzle just because some article tells you to, how about doing more of the things you love?
Maybe that’s jamming on your guitar, cooking, or even doing art projects.
Well, guess what?
If you do these activities in your free time, you’re already ahead of the game. Dare we say… you may even be smarter than most?
Check out the infographic below to see if you’re already doing some of the best hobbies for your brain — and continue reading to learn how to exercise your brain and improve your skills even more.
Learn More: The Best Hobbies For Your Brain
Sports and Fitness
Exercise your brain while you exercise your body! Breaking a sweat can improve your ability to multitask and boost productivity. Even just 20 minutes of exercise helps your brain process information and improves your memory functions. In another study, exercising boosted women’s performance on memory and problem-solving tests by 20%.
Plus, it’s great for your career: employees who exercise regularly are 15% more efficient and 23% more productive!
Fitness is also important for older adults. You may have heard about the hippocampus, the part of your brain that forms long-term memories — and that it shrinks with age. Good news: seniors who exercise for 45 minutes, three days a week can actually reverse that age-related shrinkage by one to two years.
Try something new: Tennis, golf, and even ping-pong can keep you active.
Nowadays, our lives are pretty much all on computers and smartphones. But did you know that can actually be a good thing? Mastering new computer skills can have a big impact on your brain — and that goes for both young and old alike!
For the younger generation, being comfortable with technology is a given. And don’t feel guilty about playing video games, either: certain games can even increase your brain’s “flexibility” and improve your eyesight. One study even showed that playing fast-paced video games can improve the reading skills of dyslexic children! Beyond the brain benefits, computer and technology skills can help your career prospects: by 2020, almost 80% of jobs will require IT skills.
And for older adults? You actually can teach an old dog new tricks. Researchers found that adults who regularly used a computer reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 53%.
Try something new: Picture yourself working at Pixar? Find a teacher for animation, graphic design, or even web design.
Yoga and Meditation
Awesome news for yogis: centering your chi greatly reduces stress, fights off anxiety, and can lower your risk of depression.
How does it work, exactly? GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a key neurotransmitter for stress relief. Hit a yoga class or do an hour of meditation, and you’ll increase GABA levels in your brain by 27%. In fact, one study reported that 60% of anxiety-prone participants showed improvement after 6-9 months of meditation.
Don’t have an hour? Research has shown that even 20 minutes of Hatha yoga improves participants’ speed and accuracy in memory and focus tests, helping your brain retain and use new information.
Try something new: Nervous about putting your moves on display at a studio? Take an online class from the comfort of your own home, or work with a private yoga coach.
Cooking & Baking
Whipping up a tasty meal can help develop your cognitive skills and improve your overall well-being! As you cook, you’re working on your motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and improving your problem-solving skills every time you improvise with an ingredient.
Make it a healthy meal, and you’re serving up a double-whammy: not only are you keeping your brain active, you can add some important nutrients to your diet. (One study found that people with a Mediterranean diet are 36% less likely to develop age-related memory loss and thinking difficulties!)
Try something new: Take a cooking class with your friends and family — the endorphins you’ll receive from spending time with loved ones can do wonders for reducing stress.
The benefits of playing an instrument are amazing — and this goes for any age! While there’s a lot of research about music education and kids, it’s never too late to start playing. Did you know, for example, that drummers’ brains release feel-good endorphins immediately after playing? Or that playing any instrument gives your brain a full workout, since it uses both hemispheres?
Outside of the brain benefits, you’re also improving your motor control, exercising your creativity, learning about time management and perseverance, and boosting your self-esteem as your practice and perform for others.
Plus, even just listening to music can be beneficial to your health. Listening to your favorite songs can increase your brain’s production of dopamine (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter) and decrease your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Try something new: If you think of yourself as tone deaf (tip: you’re probably not!), don’t give up just yet. Working with a music teacher 1-on-1 will give you the personalized attention and lesson plan you need to succeed — so take the plunge!
Did you know that crafts like knitting and scrapbooking also benefit your brain? In a way, it’s much like meditation: when you sit down with those knitting needles, your mind focuses on that, not the stress from the day. Doing this calms you down, and all the while your brain is releasing dopamine, which acts as a natural anti-depressant.
Crafting can be especially helpful for older adults. Research has shown that several leisure activities, including crafting, can reduce your chances of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30-50%. This means you’re at a lesser risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Time to break out the scrapbook!
Try something new: Are the DIY Pinterest projects not working out? Get some extra hands-on advice by taking a class in jewelry design, scrapbooking, or crocheting.
Learning a new language is another activity with tons of benefits. Not only will you be able to communicate with different people, you’ll improve your decision-making skills and enhance your ability to multitask. Multi-linguals are also typically better at focusing, as well as remembering lists or sequences.
Moreover, research has shown that bilinguals show Alzheimer’s symptoms about five to six years later than those who speak only one language.
Try something new: Languages are about communicating, right? So put down those grammar flashcards and textbooks, and spend some time simply chatting with a friend or family member who is also learning the same language. Spanish learners, here are some great conversation starters to try.
Bonus: Try out one of our live, group language classes to get even more practice!
Channeling your inner Picasso can improve your problem-solving abilities and boost your memory. In fact, artists often have structurally-different brains, with increased neural matter in the areas related to fine motor movements. Research in Germany even showed that making art could delay or even negate age-related declines in the brain.
Much like yoga and meditation, it’s a fantastic way to calm your mind and take a break from a busy day. There’s a reason art therapy is a thing — and it works! You can even fit it into your work day: doodling while listening to information, like lectures and work meetings, can lead to a 29% increase in memory recall.
Try something new: Adult coloring books are all the rage right now — pick one up and spend some time coloring! Or, try out a drawing, painting, or photography class.
How to Really Exercise Your Brain
The next time someone guilt trips you after spending hours on Pinterest, playing video games, or pulling out your coloring crayons after a hard day at work, use these facts to fight back.
All said and done, any activity that you enjoy will release dopamine in the brain. So don’t stress! The best hobbies for your brain are the ones you love.
And when you’re ready to really step it up, try something new! We’ll help you get started.
So just tell us… what do you want to learn?